Chase Mason had been to the library three times in a week and he was beginning to feel like a loser – a real loser with too many cardigans and not enough friends. He was also finding the visits mildly unsettling. It was not how he remembered the libraries of his childhood; dark and silent places, haunted by pensioners in tweed but perfect for getting lost in. This modern library was noisy, bright and chaotic and it left him feeling slightly nauseous.
As he entered the now familiar building, Chase collided with a group of small, unappealing children jumping up and down to music, encouraged by a librarian in a kaftan. In the middle of the room a group of young people argued loudly as they poured over newspapers strewn across a table. The only part of the scene that seemed to fit the traditional library brief was a row of ceiling fans that spun quietly and calmly overhead.
Chase stood staring up at the reassuring fans before drifting over to the New Publications stand. He pretended to read back covers as he scanned the room for his contact.
Larry was one of the best in the business and he could be hard to spot. He also had a perverse sense of humour and revelled in creating situations for Chase that involved some personal discomfort. Chase loved and hated the guy in equal measure but today the hate was winning. It was bad enough that Larry had lured him to the Kingston Public Library, but to force him to turn up three times in seven days was unjustifiable. Actually, it was worse than that. It was unAustralian and not like Larry at all.
As the minutes passed by with no sign of his partner, Chase began to wonder if he had been double or maybe even triple whammied. Despite the many systems they had in place for verification, it was possible their network had been infiltrated. The cryptic invitations to the library that Chase had found in his burger wrappers and cigarette packets were certainly typical of Larry’s style but if there was one thing the years had taught him, it was that life never delivers on comfort or certainty.
Chase mentally shifted gear and began forensically checking the room for signs of sabotage; a counter agent lurking behind a magazine or a suspicious package wedged between the photocopiers. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he was about to abandon his mission for the last time when he clocked a man mooching about in the DVD section. The profile was unmistakable; fat bellied and bespeckled, an ageing gamer, a cynical scammer, his partner Larry Vodonovski.
Chase moved slowly but deliberately over to the DVDs and picked up a battered copy of Tropical Heat.
“I love that movie,” said Larry without taking his eyes off an equally worn cover of Fame.
“Three times,” Chase hissed back, “three times I’ve been here this week. Where have you been?”
“I’m sorry,” Larry replied unapologetically, “circumstances beyond my control. It happens.”
Chase was immediately incensed. “Don’t give me that shit. I waited here for two hours last night. I had to join a children’s poetry session to stop the librarian calling security!”
Larry turned to his partner and smiled, “I would not eat them on a boat, I would not eat them with a goat–”
“You know what, Vodonovsky,” Chase snarled, “your attitude stinks almost as much as your shorts.”
“Now, now,” Larry responded, realising his partner needed to get out of the library, “there’s no need to be like that.” He paused before delivering his news as casually as he could. “Anyway, we don’t have to hang around here anymore because I didn’t get anything. It all fell through.”
“What?” Chase’s voice rose in panic. “What do you mean you didn’t get anything?”
“Jesus, be quiet!” Larry snapped before continuing in a whisper. “The Lithuanians dicked me around so much we didn’t get to make the exchange before the cops arrived. I only just got out of the car park in one piece.”
Chase slammed the Tropical Heat cover back into its place on the shelf as Larry continued. “I hate working with the Eastern Blockers. They have no sense of time, no respect for process.”
Chase turned furiously to his partner. “Well I’m not coming back here again!”
The conversation stalled.
Larry stood turning the Fame case around in his hands before giving out a long sigh. “Actually, I’m not going to come back either. I’ve decided to give it away. The drama’s no good for my ticker.”
Chase was completely caught off guard by the announcement and took a moment to respond. “Give it away? After thirty years?”
His mind began racing as he processed the alarming implications of his partner’s decision. “You can’t stop. You’re not capable! How will you make a living?”
Larry turned to Chase and tapped him on the chest with the Fame cover. “Youtube, my friend. I’m going to start a Youtube channel dedicated to boating.”
Chase was stunned. Larry continued with growing enthusiasm. “Remember Ted Harris from the Adelaide Bureau? He has 32,000 followers on his Suduko channel and, as you’ll no doubt recall, the man is a complete tool! At least I have some natural charm. I thought I’d just fix up the Lisa Marie and head up to the Murray to shoot the first season.”
Chase’s shock turned to low level rage. “Boating! Are you completely fucking mad? Who’s going to watch a dick head like you sit in a boat?”
Larry registered the anger. “I thought maybe you’d like to come along?”
Chase gave a rueful snort and stared down at his feet. “What, and miss the opportunity to hang out here at the library?”
“Actually, I find this place a bit creepy,” Larry whispered. “It’s the silence of the fans that gets me.”
The two men looked at each other as the joke settled on their faces. Chase managed a half smile. Larry was encouraged.
“Come on, why don’t we go and find the Lithuanians and see if they want to have a beer. I reckon they might know a thing or two about boats. They certainly don’t know anything about espionage.” He gave Chase a wink.
As they walked out of the library, Larry put a reassuring arm around his old friend’s shoulder. A verse from the children’s poetry session suddenly popped into Chase Mason’s head:
O it’s I that am the captain of a tidy little ship,
Of a ship that goes a sailing on the pond;
And my ship it keeps a-turning all around and all about;
But when I’m a little older, I shall find the secret out
How to send my vessel sailing on beyond.
(verse from My Ship and I by Robert Louis Stevenson)